Thursday, July 24, 2014

REVIEW: SCANNERS (Criterion Collection Blu-ray/DVD) - CAUTION... Will Make You Revok Yourself!

Let’s talk today about Scanners. Perhaps I have been a bit too harsh on this movie in the past which has earned me shame at times.  Making a bold statement like “I prefer Scanners 2 to Scanners,” is a comment that will surely invite criticism if not incite a bloody mob of horror fans shaking their heads as if in seizure trying to make your head explode as if gelatin inside latex. That is not to say that the concept of Scanners hasn’t always been interesting to me or that I found certain scenes unworthy of their praise; it’s just that I found other Cronenberg films more appealing. Scanners has always felt slow to me even though it starts off with a powerhouse scene and ends with a battle of the telekinetically enhanced dueling that will make your cleaning lady run for the Chlorox.  I’ve fallen asleep through the middle of Scanners on more than one occasion. That always led me to believe that perhaps I was in the wrong state of mind to enjoy it. After all, at an Exhumed Films screening of Shivers this past year I managed to crash for a portion of the movie after a long day of horrorthoning movies, and I love Shivers. Let’s see how things changed with this viewing because I assure you they did. Did I mention that it’s the Criterion Collection release on Blu-ray? I’m sure that helped fully immerse me in the viewing experience because that’s what Criterion does; they create experiences rather than simply allowing you to watch a movie.

Synopsis from Criterion:

After a man with extraordinary—and frighteningly destructive—telepathic abilities is nabbed by agents from a mysterious rogue corporation, he discovers he is far from the only possessor of such strange powers, and that some of the other “scanners” have their minds set on world domination, while others are trying to stop them.

For the uninitiated: 

The most important thing to do when you watch a Criterion release, especially one you’ve already seen on another format or through a different distributor, is to read the provided literature. This allows the viewer a chance to look for something new or perhaps to allow you a fresh perspective on an old favorite. Chances are good that by reading the Mind and Matter essay by Kim Newman provided with the duel format, DVD/Blu-ray release that you’ll be able to place Scanners into historical context and concept evolution. It’s a good read; it’s one of the reason why a Criterion disc provides a more full experience than most distributors who simply plunk a disc in front of you with a collage of extras and forget to tell you why it’s important. Kim Newman provides a sound explanation for Scanners’ popularity, its place in Science Fiction, influence on future cinema and, of course, the importance of its splatter. The booklet also contains variations of the colorfully gorgeous, neo-modern take on splatter as well as clear production notes and chapter listing. The color palette for this particular release is slightly disturbing but overwhelmingly beautiful.

The transfer on the Blu-ray is jaw-droppingly exquisite, supervised by David Cronenberg himself, leaving no cause for criticism. I didn’t notice noise reduction techniques that might obscure my viewing. Every juicey piece of splattered head is well received on screen. This should be nothing new to the Criterion collector. While I have stated that Scanners was not always my favorite movie to watch in full, the important scenes that I have focused on time and time again are miraculous in HD. There is crisp contrast with perfect blacks leaving vast, open space through which gelatin can ramrod unabated by picture flaw.

From a content perspective, I was actually quite taken with the story of Scanners. Even though I may be familiar with the plot as a whole and even watched it within the last year on a badly beat up DVD release (the one that lulled me to sleep) I managed to find a point of interest in the film and follow it through to the end, that being Michael Ironside’s perfectly brutal performance that almost plays out like as a benevolent fascist general leading an army into the word of the norms. Perhaps the best way to think of him as a early 90’s/Cronenberg version of Magneto of X-Men fame, proud of his unique power and willing to embrace it. The thought had never occurred to me previously to follow Darryl Revok (Ironside) as the leader of the evolved world in lieu of the heir apparent, “good guy” challenger to the dark world created by Ironside in response to ConSec, Cameron Vale (played by Stephen Lack). The story changes completely when you take a different perspective on the movie, picking your own protagonist and simply allow the story to evolve from myth to common fact before having the whole twisted truth come to light near the close of the picture. While I am still a fan of Scanners 2, and love the continuation of the story (perhaps with a bit more gusto than the original) I now am able to appreciate the story of the underdog (or is he the top dog) in Scanners.

The “Scanners” Way documentary on the special effects creation is perfect for upcoming filmmakers and fan boys alike. It’s explains where Dick Smith’s involvement happens and the various types of explosive techniques were considered with regard to the infamous head explosion. Perhaps my favorite extra is the interview with Michael Ironside. I’ve always taken Ironside to be a great action star “wing man” semi-villain, but it never occurred to me that this man was so well spoken and that he was much kinder than his filmography would let on. I kept hearing a subdued whisper of “Maverick!” under my breath as he went through his history in the film industry and his experience with Scanners. It was a treat. I look at him with new eyes. My concept of him as the “clean up” bad boy from the V Mini Series has been totally blown.  Also included is a 2012 interview with Stephen Lack , a 1981 interview with Cronenberg himself from CBC’s The Bob Mclean Show and the usual trailer and radio spots.

For fans of Cronenberg’s body of work the Scanner set includes the movie Stereo from 1969. This is Cronenberg’s first feature film, restored in 2k digital transfer. Now I love this man’s body of work, my favorite movie being The Brood and quickly followed by The Dead Zone, but this might be a stretch for the casual fan. It’s definitely science fiction but exceptionally artsy with moments of pure narration to carry the film’s concepts through a semi-surreal, neo plastic world with Sci-Fi philosophical leanings.

As a collector’s item the Criterion disc is a great set with exotic artwork that truly sells the weight and breath of this picture. Still it’s tasteful; Criterion does simply elegance with a hint of dark and filthy quite well. The package is filled with all the necessities one might expect from a fan favorite genre release, supervised by Cronenberg and sounds just so damn good. It made me a believer in a new race of telepathically gifted beings which begs the question: is the new Criterion Collection release of Scanners an extension of the mind control techniques perfected by Darryl Revok to make us subservient to his newly created and enhanced beings with exceptional talents for messing with your mind?  Buy it and find out.

Full release notes from Criterion

  • New, restored 2K digital film transfer, supervised by director David Cronenberg, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • The “Scanners” Way, a new documentary by Michael Lennick on the film’s special effects, featuring interviews with Cronenberg’s collaborators
  • Mental Saboteur, a new interview with actor Michael Ironside
  • The Ephemerol Diaries, a 2012 interview with actor and artist Stephen Lack
  • Excerpt from a 1981 interview with Cronenberg on the CBC’s The Bob McLean Show
  • New, restored 2K digital transfer of Stereo (1969), Cronenberg’s first feature film
  • Trailer and radio spots
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Kim Newman
  • New cover by Connor Willumsen 
Note: 1.78:1 AR, Monaural.

You can order Scanners, available now from the Criterion Collection.

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